I wanted to say hello to the future. I hope that you are doing OK there. I don’t know where my belt is. I didn’t floss or shave. And I did not sleep. But after a nice morning of music and lunch with JB Kline and Luanne, I feel much more human.
Mr. Kline has a weekly music show that he beams out onto the Internet via the café underneath his guitar shop. Kline’s shop was maybe the first place I ever sang, back in 2006 with friends from the old neighborhood. JB has had a rich musical life, the roots of which are documented in a film called Magic on Music Mountain: The Story of the Lambertville Music Circus.
When you see JB and his cowboy hat in the second floor window, you know that everything is alright in the world.
Having recently become reacquainted with my musicianship, JB asked if I would be his special guest. I played some of my songs and then accompanied him on a borrowed dobro. My favorite of the songs he sang was an original song he wrote about his beloved hometown of Lambertville.
As I packed up, a traveling pastor from Massachuettes asked me about the lyric of “Gather Ghosts.” This is my most explicitly New Hope song. It is a mutated version of a song called “Love Like A Chill.”
In “Gather Ghosts,” I wake up in some imagined New Hope apartment, drinking hot coffee while I watch the Delaware River flow. Vines climb the stone walls. We probably are within view of the waterfall at Bucks County Playhouse.
It’s night time and I am on the towpath with a beautiful woman, in the middle of all the action yet obscured by shadows. Against the wall. The song gets horny for a minute.
Suddenly I am singing about the mannequins that huddle together in the alleyway next to Love Saves The Day. So patiently she waits. Silently, by the gate.
Then I counsel someone to “sing a song that’s strong enough to gather all the local ghosts.” When the music gets soulful, there’s no telling what is being communicated and to whom it is being communicated. This is what the pastor was most intrigued by. I am not religious, but I absolutely love the way that every single bit of artistic expression of interpreted differently by different people at different times.
Naturally, I was counseling myself. Songwriters are usually talking about themselves.
As an introvert, the road to becoming a confident singer was a long one. It happened about twenty years after I became a confident guitar player. Late bloomer. Many of the local musicians who were around when I started out seem to be finished with music. I feel like I am finally ready to begin making my contributions. Those of us who keep at it after high school, after college, after the pressures of adult life start to pummel us… There is something to be said for the lifers.
It’s later that night. I’m playing my green-stained Telecaster in a tequila bar all night and having the time of my life.
I like playing with Mike Estabrook partly because I am so unfamiliar with so many of the songs he sings that it ends up being an exercise in improvisation.
Somebody asked for a Miley Cirus song. I think she is cool as hell, but I don’t know her songs. Now, one night only, in this tequila bar, one of her songs has an ambient lap steel guitar part.
I have found that the most important thing is to simply be busy doing what I do, not sitting on the couch talking about what I do. Waiting for the perfect scenario to come around. Some of the moments that were supposed to be amazing were disappointing, and some of the dive bar gigs are still being talked about ten years later. You never know. Just show up.
It’s Saturday night and I am playing one of the two swanky hotels in town. Sometimes I arrive in town early and watch Bob Egan play piano.
Everyone treats me great here, but I am just filling in. I imagine that my sets are a little too full of original songs and obscure B-sides. Still, it was a fun night. I am enjoying sitting on the rooftop bar, gazing out at the river where it bends around Bowman’s Tower, drinking a beer next to the roaring fire.
It is now Sunday night and I’ve just pulled into the Gardenville Hotel. My back hurts and I feel a bit queasy. But I can see a path forward. I have a protein bar, a couple of clementines, twenty ounces of water, two-hundred milligrams of naproxen sodium, and enough money to buy a beer or two.
After a while, I’ll be playing lead guitar with Righteous Jolly. And that’s a special event for me. I will not feel horrible at that time.
I’ve been asking him to record a solo album for ten years or more. Now he has, and it’s as emotionally and stylistically diverse as I’d hoped it would be, as brutally honest as I’d hoped it would be, as funny as I’d hoped it would be. And the sounds were captured exceptionally well by our friends Mike and Jamie from St. James & The Apostles.
There is no lodging at the Gardenville Hotel.
One end of the room has a large, cartoony horse and the other end of the room has a wildly out-of-tune piano. I take a photo with the horse and make audio recordings with the piano. It’s got that ghostly vibe. I am tempted to come back another night and record with it.
I walk in and my deeply talented friends The Left Tenants are already playing. It’s a bit like one of those wandering dreams where you’re in several different environments at once. There’s a family playing pool with harsh white lights above them (not far from the horse), but only a few feet away, there’s a performance area with great ambient lighting, pro sound equipment, cool-looking musicians and cool-looking music gear including a custom kick drum built out of a suitcase.
Behind a door, there’s both a bar and a restaurant. An old couple at the bar with a “we are definitely not here for original music” vibe asked me to describe Righteous Jolly and his music. I flashed them a deer-in-the-headlights look for a second and said, “oh, uh, kinda like Cat Stevens but with a lot of modern influences.” I haven’t heard enough Cat Stevens to say if that’s true or not. I just wanted to keep the conversation moving along. Maybe he’s more of a Harry Chapin guy. Harry Chapin with a lot of hip hop influence.
Christina Ward comes up next, the only solo performer on the bill. As always, she mesmerizes. Stepping in and out of beautiful, dramatic dreamscapes with each song. Music more vibey than the very vibey lighting. I am a fan.
On my way to get a beer, Steve Guarino and I meet Sasha The Dog. A looker. Sasha is, too.
Lo-Fi Milf is, of course, fun as hell. Just look at their name! I’d been lucky enough to play with Billie a number of times. A true character. In fact, she’s why I am familiar with the RRAT Club community, the leader of which is the brilliant Kate. Lo-Fi Milf also featured my new friend Cierra on drums, my old pal Cecil on organ, Carl on congas, and Ahmed on guitar.
By now, I’m on my second beer and I’m dancing to the milfy grooves.
I didn’t feel that I played well at my last couple of gigs, so I am in the mood to go full-force. Get a reaction. Make people dance. Really, Steve and Mike, the rhythm section, would be making them dance. But maybe me and my mint green Telecaster (and 1940s lap steel) can do some interesting stuff on our side of the stage.
Cierra, more than just a great drummer, more than just a great dancer, lets out the most incredible “YEAAAAAAH!”s between songs. I ask permission to overdub her on one of my records. Pure energy!
I’ve always been happy to be a loner who drifts from one scene to another, but I must say that I always feel very welcomed and very entertained at the events spearheaded by RRAT Club.
I’ve played at just three events thus far and even my social media feeds look radically different; so many new photographers, models, ambient musicians, bands, singer/songwriters. A good crew to have stumbled upon. Even in the arts, most people are just chasing money. For instance, most of the places that host bands around me are mostly hosting cover bands. The priority here seems to be quality.
Righteous nails it, as usual, as do Mike, Steve, and our new friend Carl on congas. I finally get to the end of a gig fully satisfied. It only took eight hours of stage time to get there in forty-five minutes.
Plenty of bad notes, but I played with all the energy that my fifteen-year-old self used to, back when I would pretend I was playing a gig in some vibey place where artistically-inclined people are dancing and cheering me on. These days, the dream comes true pretty regularly.
Only thing that could make it better would be if I could avoid packing up all this equipment and instead fall asleep in a room at the Gardenville Hotel. Alas, there is no lodging at the Gardenville Hotel.